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Late 20th Century Women in Baseball

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  • Late 20th Century Women in Baseball

    In June 1952 the Harrisburg Senators of the Class-B Inter-State League announced that they were going to sign 24-year-old shortstop Eleanor Engle. Before she could take the field, the league president stepped in and banned the signing of women. On the 21st Commissioner Ford Frick went one step further and formally banned the signing of women on all teams in organized baseball. The ruling stands today.

    During the 1950s, righthanded pitcher Peanut Johnson, second baseman Connie Morgan and second baseman Toni Stone played for the Indianapolis Clowns in the Negro American League. Johnson went 33-8 from 1953-55. Stone replaced Hank Aaron on the Clowns in 1953 after several seasons on pro teams and even appeared in the East-West Classic. Johnson and her friend, Rita Clark, showed up at training camp and tried out for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League but the African-Americans never received a reply.

    Mostly, women today play softball. It is rare to find a fiercely competitive and serious female baseball player. One who qualifies is Julie Croteau. She was the first woman to play in a NCAA game when she took the field for St. Mary’s College, Maryland in March 1989. The first baseman played only one year, leaving on account of continual harassment. She would later reappear on the Coors Brewery-sponsored Colorado Silver Bullets in 1994.

    The Silver Bullets were a serious, female, professional baseball team that traveled throughout the country playing male teams during the 1990s. They were managed by Hall of Fame knuckleball pitcher Phil Niekro.

    Ila Borders on May 31, 1997 became one of the few women to play in a minor league game when she went to the mound in relief in the independent Northern League for the St. Paul Saints against Souix Falls. On July 26, 1998 the southpaw notched her first victory. Still pitching in ‘99, Borders appeared in fifteen games, winning one and amassing a 1.76 ERA. She retired in July 2000 with a 2-4 record in 52 games.

    In the 43rd round of the 1993 amateur free agent draft 18-year-old Carey Schueler became the first woman selected by a major league team. On a lark, her father, White Sox general manager Ron Schueler picked her. She was not signed.

    In October 1988 the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown unveiled a permanent exhibit that honors the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that operated from 1943-54.

    Major League Baseball opened its clubhouses to female reporters in 1970. The harassment was endless, including Dave Kingman mailing a live rat to one reporter. In 1979 Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, continuing his controversial rulings, threw the women out. Earlier, Mary Shane became the first woman employed on a daily basis to do play-by-play. She was hired by none other than Bill Veeck in 1977. In 2005 Suzyn Waldman with the Yankees became the first full-time female television commentator.

    Front Office
    Joan Payson, as 10% owner of the New York Giants, was the only stockholder to vote against the move to San Francisco. She was slated to become an owner in the aborted Continental League, William Shea’s brainchild. Shea was a New York attorney with long ties to the sporting industry that had been on a mission to bring a National League franchise back to the city after the Giants and Dodgers left in 1957. He brought in Branch Rickey to gain legitimacy for the league. The Continental League closed shop when it was assured that the majors would be expanding.

    Payson became majority owner of the expansion Mets in 1962. Though having little to do with day-to-day operations, she helped lure the popular Casey Stengel out of retirement to manage the club. In 1969 she became the first female owner to win the world championship. After Payson’s death in 1975, ownership eventually funneled to her daughter Lorinda de Roulet and granddaughters Bebe and Whitney de Roulet. The team was sold to interests headed by Nelson Doubleday in 1980.

    In 1981 Marge Schott became a minority owner in the Cincinnati Reds. Four years later, she gained a majority interest. It was a bumpy ride from there. Payson and Schott are the only two female majority owners that did not inherit their club.

    Jean Yawkey, Red Sox, Jackie Autry of California and Joan Kroc, Padres in 1984, inherited a major league team when their husbands passed away. Ms. Yawkey served as majority owner and general partner from 1976 until her death in ‘93. Later, Wendy Selig-Prieb took over the Brewers when her father assumed the role of commissioner. She took formal control of the team when it was set up in a trust when Bud Selig was officially announced as commissioner in 1998. Ridiculously, he had been acting in the capacity for six years.

    Lanny Moss became the first woman hired to run a team in organized baseball, doing so in Single-A in 1975. Kate Feeney and Phyllis Collins achieved high ranking positions in the National League in the 1990s.

    On the Field
    Heather Nabozny became head groundskeeper for the Tigers in 1999.

    Several women toiled in blue. Christine Wren oversaw games at the Rookie and Class-A levels from 1975-77. Bernice Gera began umpiring in the minors in the New York-Pennsylvania League in ‘69. Her contract was immediately rescinded by National Association president Phil Piton and she sued. Finally, Gera won her case and re-took the field on June 25, 1972 in Geneva, New York. On the field that day she made the cardinal mistake of reversing herself on a call. Gera quit after only one game admitting that she was “physically, mentally and financially drained.” She later accepted a front office job in the Mets organization. Theresa Cox umpired in the Double-A Southern League from 1988-92. Female umpire Ria Cortesio began in the minors in 1999 and is working her way up the system. Shanna Kook found work in the minors from 2003-04.

  • #2
    Thanks for the great info supporting our argument on how male dominance and sexism and stereotypes ahve affected women's baseball and women's sports in general. I have run across much of this info in my research on women's baseball. Very interesting and informative.


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